Replanting a Church: Leadership

We are working through an article by Scott Thomas on replanting an existing church, that is, renewing a church so that it grows and matures as a church plant does.

2. Church Leadership
a. Identify the top three or four lay leaders of the church.
i. What will each of their roles be in leading change?
ii. What resource or encouragement do they need to more effectively help guide the ship?
iii. Do they fully understand the vision for replanting a missional church?
iv. How could they lead organized groups of men as you work through this process of change? See the Disciples’ model below and try to identify at least the six key positions of leadership:
Top Leader 1 Leader Leader Leader
Top Leader 2 Sub-leader Sub-Leader Sub-Leader
Top Leader 3 Sub-leader Sub-Leader Sub-Leader

Remember that we’re talking about replanting an existing church. In Churches of Christ, this means the elders have to be firmly on board with such an effort. There’s no going around the elders.

If the members or the preacher want to initiate a replanting effort, they have to work with the elders. And it may be that the first step is to ask the elders to study the scriptures with them — to learn about grace and the Spirit and mission. Because until the elders understand these things biblically — that is, until they escape our traditional legalism — any replanting effort would be futile.

However, if the elders are on board, it’s time to take a close look at the leadership structure within the congregation —

* Do you have the right staff? Do you need to retrain or appoint a different song leader? Is the preacher the right man for such an effort? Does he need to be re-instructed? Replaced? (Of course, any staff member who is let go should be treated generously.)

* Do you have the right men in place as elders? Does the church need to ordain additional elders? Does the church need to lovingly ask a man to step aside?

* Most churches have their various ministries headed by deacons. Do you have the right ministries and the right people leading them?

I’d strongly urge any church attempting something as difficult as a replant to appoint based on gifts and talents, not gender, fertility, and marital status. There’s absolutely nothing in the Bible that says programs must be headed by deacons, and there’s a lot that says God gives gifts to the people he wants to have them and to use them.

And I’d kill the deacons meetings, especially if you have “at large” deacons who have no ministry responsibility. There’s no such office in the Bible, and why does a man not doing ministry get a say?

On the other hand, it may well be prudent to have regular meetings of those who actually lead the ministries, including the women who lead ministries. We often pretend that the ladies Bible class, the nursery, or the ladies’ clothes closet aren’t “ministries” because they are run by women — but they are ministries and they shouldn’t be ignored. Over half your members are women, and they should have a voice.

* Are the leaders on board with the effort? Are they equipped to lead their ministry in its part of the replanting effort? What training do they need?

Every church has a different personality. In some churches, it’s enough that the elders are on board. They carry enough respect that the church will follow their lead. In other churches, the congregation is a bit self-willed and will need considerable persuasion. Therefore, the leadership must carefully consider how they will involve the church in the transition.

Consider worship. It’s a hot button issue in the Churches of Christ. Bring in a guitar and drum kit, and many churches will split. And yet some churches have pulled it off and stayed together through patient instruction and by being a truly loving community (people who love each other won’t leave before having heard the other side out).

On the other hand, some churches split because the membership feels they weren’t sufficiently involved in the decision. There’s a huge difference between taking time to ask the church to decide which way to go versus deciding which way to go and only then taking time to persuade the church. The correct approach, I think, is to equip the church with the tools they need to make good decisions — starting with a deep understanding of grace — and then let the church decide.

It’s always a mistake, I think, when the leadership gets too far ahead of the congregation in their understanding of the scriptures. I know a church where the elders spent over a year studying the role of women, and having finished, were astonished to learn that the congregation didn’t agree with them after a three-week sermon series. Of course, they didn’t agree! They hadn’t read the books or attended the classes.

And so, study as a community. Sort it out through the small groups and Sunday school classes. I mean, if you start with the assumption that you don’t trust the congregation to read the Bible aright, you are headed into trouble. Rather, teach them how to read and study for themselves, and then trust your community to discern God’s will together.


5 Responses

  1. And I’d kill the deacons meetings…

    It sounds like you’re assuming that in every church, deacons operate in a dysfunctional manner. Otherwise, why would it be advisable for a group of godly servants not to communicate with each other? I hope dysfunction is not the norm for deacons in the Lord’s church. If it is, it needs to be fixed.

  2. Alan,

    I think dysfunction is quite common, perhaps the norm. But my point isn’t that leaders shouldn’t meet. It’s that deacons aren’t the only leaders and often aren’t leaders at all. The ministry leaders should meet, if that is helpful to the workings of that church, but such meetings should be meetings of women and men who lead ministries whether or not given the deacon title.

    But it’s quite common for deacons meetings to include men who have no leadership role other than to attend deacons meetings, and it’s common to exclude women, men who are either single, divorced, or childless, and others who lead without benefit of office.

    As a result, the deacons (and elders) often act without the participation of many people who should have had input into the decision. The true leadership is often cut out of the decision making process.

    Worse yet, those with the God-given (literally) gift of leadership are often prevented from leading because we’ve invented the notion that all programs must be headed by a deacon — nowhere found in the Bible.

    Sometimes we prevent non-deacons from working directly with the elders by making them speak via a deacon who is otherwise uninvolved in their ministry, thereby pushing our leaders one step away from their elders in order to respect a tradition.

    If you want to effectively replant a church, you need better leadership than that. 1 Cor 12 and Rom 12 are quite clear on who should lead — those gifted by God to lead. Recognize as leaders those whom God has given leadership talents to, and the church will thrive.

  3. Maybe the replanting process needs to address the dysfunction of the deacons.

    In our congregation, we appoint deacons to a specific task or area of responsibility. If we don’t have such a responsibility to give them, we don’t appoint.

    Our congregation has been at this elder / deacon thing for only six years now. We’ve been basically figuring things like this out as we go along, which has its advantages and disadvantages. At least we haven’t inherited all the problems that many “old growth” churches apparently have accumulated over the generations.

  4. Alan, I would suggest at least one thing: begin planning now for the time when one of those spheres of responsibility goes away. That’s where the “deacons at large” tend to come from; the need for their ministry went away, but since we think of the deaconate in a hierarchical fashion, no one wants to “demote the deacon.” So they remain deacons. Forever.

  5. Nick, that’s good advice. So far we’ve been able to maintain a decent balance between areas of service and number of deacons. We’ll keep an eye on it.

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